Category Archives: General Safety

When Safety Should Take the Back Seat

By Vice Chairman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH

Image collage for strengthen occupant protection Most Wanted List Issue.As a public health professional, I have spent my career working in the United States and internationally to prevent injuries and deaths. At the NTSB, one of my primary roles is to advocate for the changes needed to prevent transportation accidents.

Significant advancements have been made to improve the safety of occupants in the front seats of passenger vehicles, including the development of advanced restraint and airbag systems, safer seat designs, and structural improvements to minimize injury due to intrusion. Today, 32 states have adopted legislation that requires front-seat passengers to use a seat belt, and we can celebrate that we have achieved a national daytime average seat-belt-use rate of 90 percent for front-seat passengers.

But what about rear seats? We have not seen similar technology advances in rear seats, and research shows that rear seat belt use is considerably lower, at 83 percent. How can research, engineering, and advocacy make an impact in increasing rear seat belt use?

In 2015, after decades of decline, the United States experienced the largest increase in motor vehicle crashes and resulting deaths. Another historic increase is expected for 2016.  In examining such a complex issue, we at the NTSB found ourselves asking the following: why aren’t people buckling up when they sit in the rear seat, and how can research, engineering, and advocacy increase rear seat belt use?

To answer these questions, we reached out to occupant protection experts drawn from the auto industry, the research community, safety advocates, and the government to participate in a workshop to help us find ways to strengthen occupant protection in the rear seat of passenger vehicles.

During the workshop, we discussed the current knowledge about rear seat occupants in motor vehicle crashes, and how these occupants utilize existing vehicle safety systems, such as seat belts.  We examined how the rear seat environment is different from the front, both in design and user demographics. The workshop also addressed advanced vehicle and emerging seat belt technologies, innovative seat designs, as well as areas of needed research and education.

Our workshop was designed to allow the sharing of experience and knowledge, as well as to encourage participants to collaborate on inventive strategies. As a result, in the detailed summary we are publishing today, participants identified short- and long-term goals that will require a greater amount of collaboration, engineering, design, and advocacy to achieve.

Together with researchers, automobile manufacturers, legislators, regulators, and safety advocates, we are identifying practical, real-world applications and opportunities to make rear seats safer for everyone.

For more information about the workshop, presentations and the summary document visit https://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Pages/2016_rss_WS.aspx.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

By Leah Walton

Super Bowl LI is Sunday, and the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons undoubtedly have their game plans in place.

What’s your game plan?Graphic: choose one: Drink or Drive

The players aren’t the only ones that need to be prepared on game day. Fans at the NRG Stadium in Houston, at Super Bowl parties, and at sports bars must have their transportation plans lined up before kickoff to ensure a safe and enjoyable day.

Super Bowl Sunday is thought of by some as a national holiday, and, like many other holidays in the United States, many Americans celebrate with food, friends, and alcohol. This means that, like other holidays, we often see an increase in alcohol-impaired motor vehicle fatalities. Such a day of healthy competition, camaraderie, and celebration should not end in tragedy due to something that’s 100% preventable.

That’s why I say the best defense is a good offense—not only for football players, but also for fans. And a fan’s defense on Super Bowl Sunday should be to choose—in advance—to either drive or drink, but never both. Impairment begins with the first drink, and taking a chance on driving because you “only had a few” is a risky play that could endanger your life and the lives of others.

By designating a sober driver as a key part of the game-day festivities, safety is increased and the likelihood of being in a crash is significantly reduced. Sometimes everyone wants to celebrate, and that’s OK, as long as everyone has a sober ride home. In this day and age, there are many ways to get home safely, whether by taxi, public transportation, or by using NHTSA’s Safer Ride app. Or, go for the MVP title this year and volunteer to be the designated sober driver for your squad, making sure everyone arrives safely at their destination postgame. That’s a guaranteed win!

Remember: you can drink responsibly, you can drive responsibly, but you can never drink and drive responsibly. Make your choice, stick with it, and enjoy the game!

What’s your teen’s sleep routine?

By Stephanie Shaw

Sleep Duration RecommendationsIf you’ve spent any time with parents of infants or toddlers, you know that their lives likely revolve around the napping and bedtime schedule of their child. During those early years of life, caregivers make their children’s sleep a priority. We have special nighttime routines to ensure that young kids are relaxed and ready for a restful night’s sleep. Some of us even celebrate as if we’ve just won the lottery when our kids finally sleep through the night.

But as our children get older, getting a full night’s sleep just isn’t the priority it once was—for us or for them. Years pass, and before we know it, that small child is suddenly a teen. But that teen still has special sleep needs on top of a greater exposure to risk.

On March 20, 2016, four teens were traveling home from a weekend trip at South Padre Island, Texas. At about 1:57 pm, the driver lost control of the car, crossed the center median, entered the opposing lanes of traffic, and collided with a truck-tractor semitrailer. The driver was seriously injured and her three friends died.

NTSB investigators learned that, in the 24 hours before the crash, the driver had very little opportunity for sleep: only about 5 hours on the morning of the crash. The crash also happened at a time of day when most people commonly experience a dip in alertness and performance; in fact, the three passengers in the car were all either asleep or dozing at the time of the crash. The Board determined that that the driver’s loss of control was due to inattention resulting from her fatigue.

Young drivers (ages 16 to 24) are at the greatest risk for being involved in a drowsy driving crash. Teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. A recent AAA Foundation study looking at drivers of all ages found that losing just 2 to 3 hours of sleep in one night can significantly elevate crash risk. Attention, reaction time, and decision-making can all be affected. For teens, getting 7 or fewer hours of sleep increases the likelihood that they will engage in high-risk behaviors, like not wearing a seat belt or drinking and driving.

When my son was a teen driver, I made sure to talk to him about the dangers of underage drinking, driving distracted, and driving with his friends in the car. I reminded him often to wear his seatbelt—his best defense in the event of a crash. But I never talked to him about the dangers of drowsy driving. Like most high school students, he had a full schedule—early mornings for class, practice or games every day after school, homework and studying. And that didn’t include the time he spent with friends. Time for sleep was not high on his list of priorities.

In our 24/7 culture, many parents also fail to make sleep a priority, but let’s take the time to teach our teens to prioritize it! It’s important that teens get 8 to 10 hours of good-quality sleep; so, just like when they were little, help them create a good sleep environment, free from electronic devices. Talk with teens about planning for a safe ride to and from school and activities if they have a late night studying or an early-morning event to get to.

As our teens inch closer and closer to adulthood, avoiding drowsy driving is one more life lesson we can instill in them so that they remain safe until they are out on their own—and beyond.

Stephanie Shaw is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.

Which child safety seat is the right one for you?

By Stephanie D. Shaw

Graphic for Child Passenger Safety Week“Every 33 seconds a child is involved in a crash.”
“6 out of 10 car seats are installed improperly.”

For parents, these statistics might be terrifying and overwhelming. As a parent and volunteer child passenger safety technician, I take comfort in knowing that the best way to protect my own children is the proper use of age-appropriate child safety seats and booster seats. But with so many messages out there—and maybe not the same technical background or experience—how do you know if you’re making the right decisions for your children?

Today, I wanted to share the answers to some of the questions I’ve gotten from parents and caregivers.

Q. When is my child old enough to sit up front with me?

A. Until they properly fit an adult seat belt, they should always ride in the back seat, and they should always use the right child safety seat or booster seat! But different-size children need to be protected differently – read on.

Q. Which child car seat is the safest?

A. All child car seats must meet the same federal safety standards. But car seat designs vary. That’s why it is critical that you look for a seat that is recommended for your child’s height and weight.

Q. So just buy the right car seat?

A. Not so fast. Buying the right seat for your child is the first step. But, it still falls on the adult to install and use the car seat properly every time.

Q. How do I install and use a child safety seat?

A. Read carefully and follow the instructions that came with your car seat and also your vehicle owner’s manual. It’s important to read both, as they provide steps for how and where to install the seat in your vehicle. All children should ride properly secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat. If you would like help installing your seat, visit Safe Kids Worldwide to locate a child passenger safety technician in your area.

Q. When do you change from rear-facing to forward-facing seats?

A. Children under the age of 2 are best protected when they are in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat, as their spine and neck are not developed enough to support their head in the event of a crash. Even for children older than age 2, it’s recommended that they remain rear facing until they outgrow the rear-facing height or weight limit for their seat. When children outgrow a rear-facing car seat, they should use a forward-facing car seat with an internal harness and tether.

Q. When is my child ready to ride like an adult passenger?

A. Not until the adult seat belt fits them properly – usually when they are 4’9” tall. Until then, they should use a booster seat. Booster seats help children fit in an adult seat belt. Children seated in a booster seat in the back seat of the car are 45 percent less likely to be injured in a crash than children using a seat belt alone.

Q. How can you tell when an adult seat belt fits them properly?

A. seat belt fits properly when the lap belt lies snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest, and not cross the neck or face.

Q. What are the common mistakes to look out for in using the car seat?

A. Some common mistakes parents and caregivers make include:

  • using a forward-facing child car seat too soon;
  • installing the car seat too loosely and allowing the seat to move more than one inch at the belt path;
  • allowing the harness straps to fit loosely so they fail the pinch test; and
  • placing the chest clip too low, rather than at armpit level.

To help avoid some of these common mistakes, read the instructions that came with your car seat and also your vehicle owner’s manual. Reading these instructions will help you determine whether to use a seat belt or the lower anchors, and when to use the tether to secure your seat.

Your car seat instructions will help you position the car seat (rear facing, forward facing, or reclined); properly use the internal harness, chest-clip and buckle; and determine how best they should fit to protect your child.

Q. Can I get hands-on help?

A. You’re in luck! It’s Child Passenger Safety Week. Child passenger safety technicians and other safety professionals will host events nationwide, where parents and caregivers can get hands-on help to ensure their child is in the most appropriate car seat, installed and being used properly. (Such help is also available year-round.)

Car seats, booster seats, and seat belts are a child’s best defense against injury and death in the event of a motor vehicle crash. As a parent and a technician myself, I encourage you to find a car seat check event or child passenger safety technician in your area to make sure you’re using the right seat, every trip, every time.

Saturday, September 24, is National Seat Check Saturday. To find an event in your community, visit www.safercar.gov.

Stephanie Shaw is a NTSB Safety Advocate in the Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.

Reflecting back on 10 years as a Board Member

By Robert Sumwalt

On August 21, 2006, I was sworn in as the 37th member of the National Transportation Safety Board. At the same time, I was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as NTSB Vice Chairman. In 2011, President Barack Obama reappointed me for an additional five-year term as a board member.

Robert Sumwalt, taking the oath of office, administered by then-NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker on August 21, 2006.
Robert Sumwalt, taking the oath of office, administered by then-NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker on August 21, 2006.

As I reflect on 10 years as an NTSB board member, there are several things that stand out. First, is the mission. Our role in transportation safety quickly became apparent when, on my seventh day on the job, I launched to an airline crash in Lexington, Kentucky. Tragically, that crash claimed 49 lives.

But, the NTSB’s primary mission involves more than just investigating accidents. It also involves determining the cause of accidents, and then, most importantly, issuing safety recommendations to prevent future accidents. At the entrance to our training center, we have an etched glass window that says, “From tragedy we draw knowledge to protect the safety of us all.” And that’s exactly what we do – we learn from tragedy so we can keep it from happening again.

Recently, one of our investigators wrote to me about a rail accident he investigated where fire and explosion claimed multiple lives. He told of meeting a man who was glaring at the carnage as he pushed a baby in a carriage. As it turned out, the man’s wife – the baby’s mother – had been killed in the disaster. Our investigator promised the man that the NTSB would get to the bottom of why this event occurred so other accidents could be prevented. “I also watched a man standing outside of the exclusion zone peering over the barrier in tears as a backhoe demolished his home,” the investigator explained in his note to me. “My thoughts were of those victims, and it was clear that we were being called upon to do this for them.”

Yes, we are here to give a voice to those who don’t have a voice—the victims and their families of transportation accidents. I take great solace knowing our work really does make a difference and keeps others from enduring similar tragedies.

The NTSB is an independent federal agency – meaning, we are not attached to a larger federal organization such as the U.S. Department of Transportation. In my opinion, independence is one of our greatest virtues because it allows the agency to conduct investigations and explore safety issues without being encumbered by actual or perceived political pressures. As I’ve often said, our independence allows us to “call it the way we see it.”

What also stands out to me is the dedication of the men and women of the NTSB. Their passion and determination to find the truth is uplifting. In the most recent employee viewpoint survey, 96 percent of respondents replied positively to the statement, “When needed I am willing to put in the extra effort to get a job done.” That demonstrates the commitment and dedication NTSB employees share for fulfilling our mission.

In addition to investigative activities, there is a proactive side to the NTSB. Our staff conducts safety studies, tracks and follows up on our safety recommendations, and advocates for safety improvements by providing testimony on safety issues, promoting our Most Wanted List, bringing important safety issues into the public discussion via social media efforts, and organizing safety events such as roundtable discussions.

One of the NTSB’s values is transparency; we are open and honest with the public about our work. We post on our website all accident reports and publications, as well as the docket for each accident. The docket provides reams of background information for accidents, such as interviews, photos, and technical information that may not be in the actual accident report. Our board meetings are webcast and open to the public. And, our Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications ensures the media are informed of the status of investigations by answering questions, arranging interviews, issuing press releases, and releasing updates through social media.

Many are surprised to learn that the NTSB also serves as a court of appeals for pilots, aircraft mechanics, and mariners who receive violation notices from the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S Coast Guard. The NTSB’s Office of Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) processes those cases, and our three ALJs hold hearings to adjudicate those matters.

The NTSB’s Office of Transportation Disaster Assistance – a highly trained group with expertise in social services, emergency management, and forensics – works closely with various organizations to meet the needs of disaster victims and their families. This group also serves as the primary point of contact for family members and disaster victims, providing updates regarding the status of NTSB investigations and addressing their questions. It takes a special person to do the work they do, and I’m always appreciative of how well they do it.

There are other parts of the agency that aren’t often acknowledged, but nevertheless are important to allowing the agency to function. As in any organization, job openings need to be posted and filled, bills paid, contracts written and executed, and our computers maintained. The employees who perform these functions are as dedicated as those performing the agency’s core mission.

To put it simply, I’m so proud to be part of this agency. Our mission, independence, transparency, and people are all so important. I’m honored to have served with them for the past 10 years.

Robert Sumwalt is an NTSB board member.

How Will You Send Your Kids to School? – Make Safety Your First Priority

By Leah Walton

I’ve worked in the traffic safety arena for more than 10 years. I know the rules of the road, I know the traffic statistics, and I know the safest mode of transportation.   

But what I don’t know yet is how I will feel when I send my first child to kindergarten. The first day of school is fast approaching, and I admit I’m getting emotional about it. Will my son be safe and happy in this new environment? Will he make friends? Is he ready for kindergarten? Where did the time go?

One thing we should also ask ourselves: how will our children get to and from school and what is the best way of getting there?

The best way to get to and from school varies from family to family, and sometimes even student to student. We must take into consideration all the options and determine the safest way to transport our children.

Students can travel by school bus, family vehicle, public transportation, bicycle, or walking. Regardless of the way they get there and back, we must teach them – and demonstrate for them – the safest practices and behaviors.

Will your child ride the school bus? It should be your first choice if it is an option for your family.  Statistically, the school bus is the safest form of transportation on America’s roadways. Before your child steps on the school bus, talk to them about how to ride the bus safely. Remind them to wait at the bus stop until the bus comes to a complete stop and the driver signals that it’s ok for them to get on. Once on the bus, they should sit quietly in their seat facing forward, buckle their seat belts if the school bus has them, and hold the handrail when getting on or off the bus.

Will your child walk or bike to school? That’s an excellent way to reach the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recommended 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity! It is recommended that children under the age of 10 walk with an adult or an older, responsible sibling. Talk to your children about walking safely, using crosswalks and sidewalks, and walk the route with them before school starts to practice being a safe pedestrian. If they ride their bike, make sure they wear their helmet – a helmet is the best protection against head and brain injury. Review bicycle safety tips and practice the ride with them too, to ensure they are safe and ready.

Will your child ride with you or drive themselves to school? It is important to note that more students are killed while riding or driving in a passenger vehicle than any other mode of transportation. If this is your family’s only or best option, make sure everyone is as safe as possible in the family vehicle. Make sure everyone is in the right type of seat for their size, has their seat belt fastened, and is free of distractions (if driving)

schooltransprelfatals
source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Back to school safety isn’t just an important consideration for parents and caregivers of schoolchildren – back to school safety should be a priority for all community members. Today, the NTSB hosted a press event that featured the “Look Out for Each Other” campaign of Montgomery County, Maryland, which reinforces the sentiment that traffic safety involves everyone. We must all work together to make sure everyone reaches their destination safely – whether we are on our way to work, out for an evening with friends, or headed off to the first day of school.

Back to school time comes with many mixed emotions – especially for me now. But, with proper planning, fears around how our children will get to and from school should not be among them.

Leah Walton is a Safety Advocate for NTSB

Your Car Is a Public Health Tool

By: Vice Chairman Dr. T. Bella Dinh-Zarr

We don’t often think of our cars as public health tools, but safety features in vehicles can protect us from injuries, much as vaccines protect us from certain diseases.  In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S.’s public health agency, declared Motor Vehicle Safety one of the top ten public health achievements of the 20th Century, along with well-known successes such as immunizations, recognition of tobacco use as a health hazard, and fluoridation of drinking water.

In the last few decades of the 20th Century, motor vehicle deaths decreased from 50,000 per year to 30,000 deaths per year.  What changed?

Importantly, seat belts, child safety seats, and air bags came into use. Changes also were made to enable other parts of the vehicle to be more “forgiving” for occupants in a crash thanks to the installation of a wide range of technologies—shatter-resistant windshields, energy absorbent steering wheels, and head restraints—that reduced lacerations and blunt force trauma, especially to the head, neck, and torso areas.  Increased roof strength, as well as front and side protection also improved the crashworthiness of a vehicle in different types of scenarios, reducing the severity of injuries to drivers and passengers.

As we entered the 21st Century, in addition to crashworthiness technology, crash avoidance technologies were increasingly introduced. Many crashes occur simply because drivers are not paying attention or are otherwise distracted behind the wheel.

Since the mid-1990s, the NTSB has recognized the significant benefit of technology countermeasures to prevent and mitigate motor vehicle crashes. Last year, the NTSB released a new report focusing on forward collision avoidance systems (CAS), which typically consist of warning to drivers of an impending crash, and autonomous emergency braking that automatically applies brakes.

In 2012 alone, more than 1.7 million rear-end crashes occurred on our nation’s highways, resulting in more than 1,700 fatalities and 500,000 more injuries. As part of the study, the NTSB issued a Safety Alert entitled Addressing Deadly Rear-End Crashes for consumers and commercial fleet owners. Collision avoidance technologies—such as forward CAS, lane departure warning and blind spot detection—could help to mitigate or even prevent many such crashes; they are passive technology “vaccines” against the risk of motor vehicle crashes.

New car assessment programs (NCAPs) around the world, such as the U.S.-based NHTSA NCAP and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, are part of Global NCAP and work to test vehicle crashworthiness in order to determine the safety of cars for the consumer. As technologies are introduced into vehicles, it is important that we do all we can to educate consumers on their life-saving benefits and how to use them. In addition, education campaigns like MyCarDoesWhat.org help to bring awareness to consumers as well.

With the vision of a future with no motor vehicle crashes, deaths, and injuries, it’s important that we continue to improve crash prevention technologies, while also striving for advances in technologies to improve vehicle crashworthiness, especially as it relates to occupant protection.

Inflatable seat belts, smart air bags, and knee bolsters are advances in occupant protection that can reduce injury severity, especially as we age. As vehicle design changes to adapt to these new restraint technologies, we also face the challenge of how these changes affect the rear seat passenger.

Car frames may be made more rigid in order to be crashworthy for front seat passengers with more advanced restraint systems, but is there a trade-off for the rear seat passenger?  Are technologies in the rear seat keeping up with overall vehicle changes?  These questions and others will be addressed tomorrow, April 26, 2016, at the NTSB’s Rear Seat Safety in Passenger Vehicles Workshop. Tomorrow’s workshop will bring together leading experts to address this component of the NTSB’s Most Wanted List issue Strengthen Occupant Protection.

Prevention is the philosophy of public health and prevention of deaths and injuries is truly an important public health achievement.  Our cars represent incredible technologies that have made us more mobile.  Our challenge will be to continue to improve vehicle safety features so that we can continue to use this public health tool to prevent deaths and injuries on our roads.

This blog also appears on the MyCarDoesWhat website.  MyCarDoesWhat has received permission from the NTSB to reproduce it on the MyCarDoesWhat website. This permission does not constitute an endorsement of MyCarDoesWhat by the NTSB.